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The name Clint Eastwood is synonymous with classic Westerns, old style Hollywood and the infamous phrase, “Go ahead, make my day”. But few would really appreciate the man’s dexterity behind the camera, where he earned a Best Director Oscar for the 1992 Best Picture, Unforgiven.  Twelve years on his second nomination arrived, this time for his work on Mystic River, itself an Academy favourite. While he was never going to haul in Peter Jackson for his second statuette, Eastwood finally started to gain public recognition for his continued improvement as a director, announcing to the world that 1992 wasn’t a fluke. With a good cast in front of the camera, a compelling story and solid script, Eastwood added the finishing touches to one of the best films of 2003.

Mystic River
The film bears a slight resemblance to the 1996 hit, Sleepers, albeit without the distinct, two-part narrative structure. We begin with the prologue involving three boys, each with their distinct personalities, who are messing around playing hockey and writing their names in the wet cement around their neighbourhood. When a man in a business suit steps out of his car and begins addressing the boys they naturally assume he’s a police officer. Jimmy, Dave and Sean are quizzed about where they live, what they are doing and why they think it’s OK to be messing with the pavement. Scared, the youngsters don’t question the man when he orders Dave to get into the car. The other two return home to tell their fathers, who immediately initiate a search for the boy. What happens to Dave is only implied, but after being trapped for four days before escaping through the woods, whatever happened certainly changed his life forever.

Flash forward twenty-five years and the boys are now grown men, still living in the neighbourhood but forging very different paths. Jimmy (Sean Penn) owns a grocery store after spending two years in prison for robbery. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a detective who fields silent phone calls from his estranged wife every night. Dave (Tim Robbins) now shares a home with his loving wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and young son. A moment of tragedy rocks the small town and brings all three men back together, with several story elements twisting together to create a brooding atmosphere that doesn’t let up.

There’s little point spelling out any more of the story, since the set up of the major plot turns are just as important as the chilling final act. The inspired casting goes a long way to making the story successful, with Penn and Robbins fully deserving of their Oscar nominations and Penn worthy of having his name read out for Best Actor earlier this year. With Penn’s other dark thriller, 21 Grams hitting Australian screens at practically the same time, audiences were privileged to see his enormous screen presence in full flight. Jimmy is as much an internally troubled character as externally, which Penn handles brilliantly.

Tim Robbins, all seven foot of him, is outstanding as the completely messed up Dave, building up the emotion with his constantly forlorn face before he finally lets it all out in some serious verbal rage. Kevin Bacon’s performance is probably overshadowed somewhat by the other two leads but this underrated actor puts in a fine turn with a lot less to work with. The support cast is sound as well, from Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney to Laurence Fishburne as Sean’s detective partner.

But to be honest it is probably Eastwood’s steady direction that gives the film the finish it needs to become a standout. So many murder mysteries seem to just go through the motions and throw up needless red herrings to try and string audiences along, so it is refreshing to see that the characters are allowed to have their own stories portrayed untainted which lets the action play out as it should. Oscar or no Oscar, this was a fine effort.

Mystic River
Roadshow have put together another fine transfer for this new release, presenting the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, which looks stunning on a large display. The colour palette is deliberately muted but that doesn’t stop the visuals from looking really vibrant and sharp. Occasionally the transfer looks a little dark in places but at least the blacks are deep and true. There is no hint of any dirt on the print, which is to expected considering the age of the film, and aliasing appears only once or twice in a couple of scenes over the duration. Overall this is a high quality transfer that will have you transfixed on the action throughout.

Accompanying the quality visuals is an equally impressive audio mix, despite it not being the most challenging soundtrack to create. What we get here is a brooding Dolby Digital 5.1 track which combines the eerie ambient sounds with the haunting score and heavy dialogue extremely well. The surrounds are used creatively with general atmospheric sounds, effects and dialogue all being shifted around the rear speakers, all the while maintaining clarity in the spoken words (although Penn and Bacon become a little hard to understand in their own right sometimes).

The score, credited to Eastwood as well (is he really a composer or does he just work in collaboration with someone more highly skilled?), isn’t anything startling but it really does help hammer home the mood of the film overall. There’s no outstanding theme tune, no big bangs or crashes and you probably won’t notice it for the most part, but the orchestral pieces fit in perfectly with the film’s tone and sound great coming out of the speakers. Overall this is a polished mix without anything to make it really stand out.

The two disc set comes with a number of extras, sure to appease fans of the film once the main feature is over. On disc one there’s an audio commentary with Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon, which might not knock your socks off but is quite interesting nonetheless. It is very low key, especially since Robbins comes across as a low key guy by nature. They discuss various aspects of the production, mainly to do with their roles and the other actors, and impart a few little tidbits about the making of the film. A few silences here and there but it’s still a decent commentary overall.

Disc two is where the majority of the extras features lie, the first of which is a featurette entitled Beneath The Surface. This 23 minute piece isn’t the most in depth production but it gives a very good surface level look at how the film came about and what the major players thought about the different areas of the production. There’s a fair bit of fluff involved with actors and crew patting each other on the back at various stages, but for fans it is still worth a look.

Mystic River
The second featurette, From Page To Screen, is a more detailed look into how the book, written by Dennis Lehane, was adapted into a workable screenplay by Brian Helgeland. Running for eleven minutes, the piece still ventures into re-telling the story with interviews and clips from the film but at least you get an idea as to how the film was adapted from the popular novel.

The most accomplished extra is the Charlie Rose Interviews section, where we get to see Charlie Rose speak to Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon, the first two in real depth. The Eastwood section begins with a montage of his work, which is a great little bonus for his fans, while the Robbins and Bacon interviews also contain some clips from their previous films. Rose’s interview skills are very accomplished so he is able to lead the subjects down a very interesting path which adds real value to the disc. Be sure to check these out.

Rounding out the extras section is the teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, both of which are great examples of how promotion can be used effectively to really draw audiences in. Had it not been for the interviews, however, one could say that the two-disc set hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in the extras department, considering the commentary isn’t all that flash, the two featurettes are pretty tired stuff and the interviews, while great, probably don’t have the same impact as a deleted scenes or fully-fledged making of documentary would.

Mystic River
Fully deserving of its Oscar attention, Mystic River is an accomplished film, high on emotion and drama but full of some fantastic performances that really do make this one a must-see. With Robbins and Penn the standouts, the film takes you on a dark but compelling journey without resorting to any trickery concerning the mysterious storyline. The disc itself is blessed with a great transfer and a decent audio mix, while the extras section is lifted up a couple of notches by the lengthy interviews with three of the key players. Pick this two-disc set up and you won’t be disappointed.